The phenomenon of the Ramones, as in the band rather than the T-shirt, seems sufficiently long ago that it’s completely okay for a former member to tour without being deemed to be trading on past glories, or compromising their integrity.
Or at least so thinks a man who worked in a bank for ten years….
Some punk bands had the sound. Others had the integrity.
But perhaps it was only the Ramones who ever had both (even the Clash and the Pistols, it could be argued, lost some integrity towards their ends).
Always a political band, the integrity of the Ramones was, for me, created over decades and can be identified through their desire to;
- Hide clever political statements behind a cartoon veneer, and
- Stay rooted to their original sound and identity rather than chasing riches and attaching themselves to new fashions. Johnny never went jazz (or new wave, or disco).
It was the dual combination of this integrity, and their sound, that made them great.
A distinctive sound can come from many places; it may come from a singer’s voice (R.E.M), from a heavy drum beat (The Doors), from an interesting and seldom used instrument (the Hammond organ: The Animals), the list goes on.
For me, the distinctive sound of the Ramones always came from Johnny and his power chord/ buzzsaw guitar.
Regularly imitated, but never bettered, Johnny’s playing almost could symbolise punk itself; he took tools that were accessible to anyone (bar chords) and played them with such physicality and emotional intent that his playing took on meaning and became a political and social statement.
Imitation of his style must be difficult; it’s hard to fake the physical force that comes from an emotional release.
Adding a further complexity to the imitation challenge it wasn’t just Johnny’s playing, or the sound of his guitar, that defined the Ramones; it was also his physicality. Out stretched legs, guitar pulled aside and facing upwards, eyes down and covered by the hair, frown; all of these elements were just as important to his image, and therefore the image of the Ramones’, as the better-known leather and bowl cut uniform.
When putting his band together it would be interesting to find out how conscious Richie Ramone has been with this challenge. Earlier this year I saw the band play with Alex Kane and commented that Alex was one of the finest performance artists I’d seen, bringing both Johnny’s playing and physicality to life. It was a fitting tribute to Johnny by a guitarist who I didn’t think I would see bettered in a long time. Let alone within 10 months. And let alone by his replacement.
On Tuesday Ronnie Simmons absolutely dominated the Richie Ramone show.
Taking guitar playing to an extreme, Simmons did the almost impossible trick of never stopping for air, upstaging Clare Misstake and playing like Johnny whilst maintaining an unfazed/angry demeanor.
Ronnie, the night, and the whole band were excellent.
In a week where you can pay £85 to see Guns N’ Roses, £15 to see a 60 minutes set of 25 songs, played with anger, passion, humour and intensity went a long way to reinforce the integrity of the Ramones.
Johnny would still be frowning. But he’d be okay with it.